Sustainable Development Goals: Does success start with failure?

dfsffAs an outcome of the Rio+20 conference in 2012, countries agreed to embark on the process of developing the Sustainable Development Goals to carry on the work of the Millennium Development Goals. Set to be adopted at a UN high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly in September this year, the SDGs have come under recent criticism.

15 years ago, 189 UN members adopted the Millennium Declaration and the 8 Millennium Development Goals, comprising of 18 quantified targets and 48 statistical indicators (later expanded to 21 targets and 60 indicators). The MDG Report 2014 discusses progress so far in achieving the MDGs. The SDGs aim to continue the economic, social and environmental vision the MDGs first set out to achieve but the proposed SDGs number 17 in total with 169 targets and an estimated 300 or so indicators. In a blog post last year we discuss the 17 proposed SDGs. In recent discussions and articles the SDGs have come under considerable criticism for being too ambitious, too aspirational and too numerous. Here we look at some of these arguments.

More targets = greater success?

Does having significantly more goals, targets and indicators than the MDGs mean we can expect the SDGs to achieve more? Some are highly doubtful. The MDGs were criticised for being limited in scope and lacking consensus but in seeking consensus for the SDGs, even running door-to-door surveys, have the UN gone overboard in trying to please every interest group to the detriment of a joint vision? Some member states are arguing for the number of goals and targets to be reduced, while others see the higher number as a positive reflection that their creation was more bottom-up, through widespread consultation than the creation of the MDGs. Another view is that the number of goals has to be this numerous if they are to be universal. But should we have universal goals when their meaning and implementation will be so different in different countries? For example environmental protection will no doubt look very different in a developing as opposed to a developed country. Should there be separate goals for richer and poorer countries? Others value the proposed SDGs because they at least make an attempt to share responsibility between developed and developing countries, whereas the MDGs largely separated developed countries into funders and developing countries into actors.

Another view is that with more goals and more complexity the SDGs will be easier to ignore. The MDGs had a very simple, concise and easy to communicate message. Will the SDGs, and the work involved in putting together road maps for the implementation of 17 goals scare away policymakers? Is less more in international policy? Do broader goals better allow for local context and adaptation, and by having narrower goals will the plans put in place be less tailored, more one-size-fits-all, an approach typically condemned?

But perhaps the number of SDGs reflect the growth in our understanding of development and the environment. As our comprehension of the complexity of the issues and their connectivity grows do the goals grow too? Do more goals become necessary? Yes the SDGs are more ambitious than their predecessors but they tackle issues such as poverty from several angles: urbanisation, infrastructure, climate change, for example. Poverty is the result of social and political structures that favour inequality, poor governance and transparency, thus we need more goals to tackle each aspect. [Read more…]

Addressing hunger, malnutrition and climate change with our eyes open: the future of the Millennium Development Goals

dublin-conference-logo-140x85“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of history’s cliff”. This was a sentence uttered by former vice-president of the US, Al Gore at the recent Hunger Nutrition Climate Justice conference in Dublin in reference to the impact of climate change on global food security, poverty, inequality and resource scarcity. Thinking about this statement, one might think it means we are blindly stumbling towards our inevitable demise but it is not because we are blind to the challenges we face nor to the solutions rather it is our unresponsiveness in addressing them which Al Gore was referring to.

While the former vice-president often delivers a rousing speech around the dangers of climate change, his speech this time was targeted to a broader development agenda. We are not only witnessing extreme levels of hunger, malnutrition and widespread poverty but any progress we have made towards eradicating these injustices will be lost if we ignore climate change. Climate change is expected to lower grain yields and raise crop prices across the developing world, leading to a 20-percent rise in child malnutrition. Already undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under five each year.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established as a result of the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, are 8 goals which aim to address a wide range of development issues from hunger and poverty to HIV/AIDS, health and education. The eight goals are around:

  • Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
  • Achieving universal primary education,
  • Promoting gender equality and empowering women,
  • Reducing child mortality rates,
  • Improving maternal health,
  • Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability, and
  • Developing a global partnership for development.

Each goal is divided into specific targets. For example the first goal has three targets:

  • Target 1A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day
  • Target 1B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
  • Target 1C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

As we approach the 2015 deadline set for these goals, experts, policymakers and global leaders are looking back to individual county’s success in reaching these goals as well as forward to what a new set of development goals might look like. Progress, in general, has been mixed, with some countries such as Brazil already achieving a number of the goals while others, such as Benin, not on track to meet any. China and India have been particularly successful, the former reducing poverty from 452 million people to 278 million. Over the same period, however, sub-Saharan Africa has reduced poverty by only 1%. Characterising the region as a whole though masks differences between individual countries. Ghana may be the only country who looks likely to reach the goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015 but 14 African countries look likely to reach target 1A and 12 to reach target 1C. This progress, however, is, as Al gore said, at risk if we fail to address wider environmental crises such as climate change. [Read more…]

Sustainable agricultural intensification: Tackling food insecurity in a resource-scarce world

By Lindiwe Majele Sibanda and Katy Wilson.

Reblogged from AlertNet

ID-10029986 (2)Today, the world is searching for solutions to a series of global challenges unprecedented in their scale and complexity. Food insecurity, malnutrition, climate change, rural poverty and environmental degradation are all among them.

A recent meeting hosted by the Irish government and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ) in Dublin convened experts and practitioners from around the globe to discuss how the next iteration of development goals following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can respond to this set of challenges, as part of the so-called “post-2015” development agenda.

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to these threats as both supply-side and demand-side challenges are putting additional pressure on an already fragile food production system. Indeed, current systems of production will only be able to meet 13 percent of the continent’s food needs by 2050, while three out of four people added to the planet between now and 2100 will be born in the region.

Improving agricultural yields efficiently and sustainably must be central in addressing Africa’s food insecurity challenges. This calls for “sustainable intensification”. 

Sustainable intensification offers a framework for producing more food with less impact on the environment, intensifying food production while ensuring the natural resource base on which agriculture depends is sustained, and indeed improved, for future generations.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the term has taken on a highly politicised meaning, with some arguing it is synonymous with industrial agriculture reliant on a high use of fertilisers and pesticides. But this does not have to be the case.

The term’s original scientific intent was for it to be relevant to all types of agricultural systems, including smallholder farmers in Africa. It is now time that the term is re-embraced to help meet the challenges we face as a global population of 9 billion people by the year 2050.


A new report from the Montpellier Panel, an eminent panel of international experts led by Sir Gordon Conway of Agriculture for Impact, provides innovative thinking and examples of how sustainable intensification can be used by smallholder African farmers to address the continent’s food and nutrition crisis. [Read more…]